29. Memorandum of a Conversation, Department of State, Washington, July 30, 19561

SUBJECT

  • Current Developments in the Near East

PARTICIPANTS

  • Abba Eban, Ambassador of Israel
  • Reuven Shiloah, Minister, Embassy of Israel
  • NEAGeorge V. Allen
  • NESlator C. Blackiston

Ambassador Eban called to discuss current Near Eastern developments:

Canadian F–86s for Israel.

Ambassador Eban said that he had been informed of the desire of Canada to bring the matter of the sale of F–86s to a favorable conclusion provided the U.S. fulfilled certain modest Israel arms requests.

Mr. Allen said that he was glad things had proceeded to this point and he commended Ambassador Eban on his tenacity in pursuing the matter. However, said Mr. Allen, the Suez Canal nationalization has complicated the situation, and we do not wish to give the impression that our supply of arms to Israel is in any way [Page 51]connected with Suez events. It would be most unfortunate if Nasser was placed in a position to say that Western action against him was the result of a pro-Israel, anti-Arab policy. Therefore, we must delay for the present our anticipated action designed to result in Israel’s acquiring Canadian jets.

Both the Ambassador and Mr. Shiloah expressed distress at learning that Israel’s quest for F–86s had been brought to the verge of success only to find that other developments had barred completion of the transaction. Mr. Shiloah asked whether preliminary details preparatory to the release of the aircraft and other arms could not be worked out now even though delivery was held in abeyance “for a few days”. Israel, he said, did not desire a propaganda victory and was not interested in publicity. Mr. Allen replied that this was one of the problems since the Canadians wished the U.S. to publicize its sales to Israel. While we could not state when the U.S. would be in a position to proceed with our proposed arms sales to Israel, it was not likely that Nasser, already preoccupied with the Suez affair would be inclined to launch an attack on Israel in the near future. Results of the London talks on Suez, now going on, may clarify our position.

Export-Import Bank Loan to Israel2

Ambassador Eban said during his last meeting with the Secretary he had been advised to discuss Israel’s pending application for a $75 million Export-Import Bank loan with Mr. Hoover. Since this meeting he had seen Ambassador Eric Johnston who had suggested that he postpone his meeting with the Under Secretary until after he (Mr. Johnston) had spoken to Mr. Hoover. Since Ambassador Eban had not received any new information he asked whether he should not now ask for an appointment with Mr. Hoover. Mr. Allen suggested that he do so.

Seizure of the Installations of the Suez Canal Company

Mr. Eban said that Nasser’s action was, of course, a momentous development. As Israel had earlier prophesied, Nasser’s purchase of Soviet arms was only the beginning of a long series of pro-Communist and anti-Western moves on his part. Nationalization of the Suez Canal Company is another indication that Nasser considers himself the sole judge of Egypt’s international obligations.

There followed a discussion of the Constantinople Convention of 1888 governing the rights of passage through the Suez Canal and the restrictions placed in the way of Israel shipping by the Egyptians.

[Page 52]

The Security Council resolutions of 1951 and 1953 on this subject were also discussed.3

The Ambassador suggested that if Security Council action was contemplated by the Western Powers there was no need for submitting a resolution charging Egyptian failure to observe the provisions of the 1888 Convention since the SC resolution of 1951 had already established this point.

Mr. Allen replied that the present thinking did not tend toward SC action. However, the issue can best be handled if it is fought out on the basis of the effect that the seizure has on all maritime nations, permitting Israel to reap the benefit of a solution, rather than on the ground that Israel ships have failed to pass through the Canal.

Mr. Shiloah hoped there was no intention of coming to terms with Nasser which would acquiesce in the status quo ante with the restrictions which this situation imposed on Israel shipping.

Alternatives to the Suez Canal

Ambassador Eban suggested that thought be given to alternatives to the Suez Canal and he made the following proposals:

1)
A canal from the Gulf of Aqaba through Israel to the Mediterranean. Mr. Allen asked whether he had in mind a canal following the Wadi Araba to the Dead Sea and thence westward to the Mediterranean. Mr. Shiloah answered that a more direct canal route was envisaged although the route via the Dead Sea had been suggested by a Captain Allen, an Englishman, some 100 years ago in a book entitled “Dead Sea—New Route to India.” The Ambassador said public knowledge that such a project was being discussed might have a salutary effect upon Nasser. Mr. Allen felt that talk about an alternative canal at this time might lead Nasser to believe that the West contemplated accepting his seizure of the Suez installations.
2)
An oil pipe line from Eilat across Israel to the Mediterranean. Mr. Allen said that this project appealed to him in view of the possibility that the Lebanese and Syrians might nationalize the pipe lines in their countries. He suggested that the Israel Government take this project up with one of the oil companies.

[Page 53]

Israel’s Position in the Event of a Western Clash with Egypt over the Suez Dispute

Mr. Shiloah opined that what comes out of the Suez controversy may cause Israel to reappraise its military thinking. He said that the danger of a world conflagration still confronts Israel. Should the West take military action against Egypt bases might be needed in Israel. Discussions on this subject took place during the world crisis in 1951 and might once again be advisable.

  1. Source: Department of State, Central Files, 784A.56/7–3056. Secret. Drafted by Blackiston.
  2. Additional documentation on this subject is ibid., 884A.10 and 103–XMB.
  3. On September 1, 1951, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution calling upon Egypt to terminate restrictions on the passage of goods bound for Israel. (U.N. doc. S/Res/95 (51)) On March 19, 1954, New Zealand introduced a draft resolution reaffirming this position; the resolution was vetoed by the Soviet Union. (U.N. doc. S/3188/Corr. 1) For text of the 1951 resolution, see Foreign Relations, 1951, vol. V, p. 848; or American Foreign Policy: Basic Documents, 1950–1955, vol. II, pp. 2251–2254. The U.N. Security Council did not consider the question during 1953.